COUGAR NOTEBOOK: Leach sees Long in NFL

SPOKANE – Mike Leach said BUCK linebacker Travis Long is the only Cougar he expects to be selected in the 2013 NFL draft. But would he play linebacker or defensive end in the pros? Leach also touched on Jeff Tuel, recruiting, Marquess Wilson and more.

Travis Long started every game in his four years at WSU before sitting out the final game. Mike Leach, who almost never discusses injuries, said Long underwent knee surgery last Thursday after being hurt the week before at Arizona State.

Long played defensive end his first three years in college. Leach said he's uncertain whether Long is best suited for defensive end or outside linebacker in the pros.

Leach said Long represented the "gold standard" for the Cougars in terms of skill and effort. Leach predicts Long will enjoy a long NFL career, partly because of his versatility, body type and competitive drive.

LEACH, WHO WAS highly complimentary of Huskies star Austin Seferian-Jenkins during the luncheon, said he was unaware that a fan apparently either sucker-punched or shoved to the ground the big tight end on the field after Friday's game.

Leach said the fan is "lucky he (Seferian-Jenkins) didn't get his hands on him."

The WSU Police Department is investigating the incident, which was caught on videotape, though so far clear video of exactly what occurred has yet to surface publicly.

LEACH, WHO BREATHES fire when his players do not give maximum effort, often catches fans by surprise with his easy-going, down-to-earth manner away from the football field.

Leach spent about an hour discussing Washington State football with a packed ballroom of Cougars fans Monday afternoon – complete with a review of videotaped Apple Cup highlights -- then met individually with fans and media for another half hour.

One luncheon guest waited in line for 10 minutes to meet Leach. When the man introduced himself to Leach, the coach promptly replied, "Mike Leach. Good to see you."

Obviously, the man was well aware of Leach's identity. That's not important, Leach said.

"You want to be polite," he explained.

LEACH HAS A well-earned reputation for his willingness to speak at length about football and virtually anything else.

"Our coaches meetings go on forever," one WSU assistant coach muttered half-jokingly in the fall.

On Monday, however, Leach was quick and to the point when asked if he will definitely be coaching the Cougars in 2013.

"Yes," Leach said.

Leach was making his first public appearance following the latest wave of rumors about other schools inquiring about his availability after one year at Washington State.

Leach's comments during and after the luncheon echoed what he has said repeatedly this year. To summarize: He and his family enjoy living in Pullman; he's excited about WSU's recruits and the large group of young players returning; and he values the leadership of school president Elson Floyd and athletic director Bill Moos.

Moos, speaking on his weekly radio show Monday, said neither he nor Leach have been contacted by anyone seeking Leach's services.

"I'm happy here," Leach said.

ASKED IF IT is realistic to expect the Cougars to go to a bowl game next year, Leach said, "I think so. I think it is every year. Shoot, I think it was this year. We just need to keep doing the same things better."

The Cougars began working toward a 2013 bowl when the team held its first off-season weightlifting session at 5:30 Monday morning. Not long after that, work began on WSU's first-ever football operations building, a project that is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2014.

After missing USC both years since the Pac-10 expanded into the Pac-12, the Cougars make their first trip to USC since 2009 next season. The Trojans have won eight straight over WSU, including 50-16 in Pullman in 2010.

The Cougars play four conference games at home and five away next year, the opposite of this season. Dates have yet to be announced, but WSU will visit Oregon, Arizona, California, USC and Washington in Pac-12 play. Conference home games are scheduled with Stanford, Oregon State (in Seattle), Arizona State and Utah.

WSU plays non-league games at Auburn on Aug. 31, at home against Southern Utah on Sept. 14 and at home against Idaho on Sept. 21. The Cougars scheduled Southern Utah, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) team, after rescheduling Brigham Young to the 2019 home slate.

LEACH SAID the Cougars could learn as soon as this week if the NCAA will grant senior quarterback Jeff Tuel a medical hardship year of additional eligibility.

"If he gets it, I expect him to come back," Leach said.

Tuel, set to earn his communications degree next month, has said he's undecided about whether he'll return to WSU if he's eligible. He could try to turn pro or, in certain instances, transfer to another school.

"He wants to come back, from what I understand," Leach said. "He's expended a lot of time, energy and effort to file this appeal, which he certainly wouldn't have done if he isn't planning to come back."

After playing in just three games last year due to injuries, Tuel started the first two games and last five games this season. Tuel and sophomore Connor Halliday, who started at quarterback in the other five games, expressed frustration with what Halliday and Leach termed the "musical chairs" situation at quarterback.

Leach said recruiting is "going real well; way ahead of last year."

The Cougars have 18 known verbal commitments plus two grayshirts in WR Robert Lewis and OL B.J. Salmonson for a total of 20 incoming Cougars. Dave Emerick, Leach's Chief of Staff and right hand man, said the Cougars will sign 25 players to letters of intent.

(As CF.C noted in an earlier article, WSU has one spot they can assign a mid-year transfer to in order for him to count against the 2012 class numbers, so WSU can sign and take 26 players all told. That total does not include possible oversigning. The mid-year junior college signing period begins Dec. 19.)

LEACH SAID the Cougars are currently focused on defensive linemen "in particular," but still hope to land two junior college offensive linemen.

Four known recruits were on hand for WSU's overtime win against Washington on Friday.

"They had a great time," Moos said. "It was just a great day. An Apple Cup to remember forever."

Look for a CF.C article on one of the visitors, a d-lineman, a little later.

LEACH MADE IT clear that junior wide receiver Marquess Wilson will not be rejoining the Cougars. Wilson, WSU's all-time leading receiver, quit the team with three games left.

"The book's entirely closed on Marquess Wilson," Leach said.

Steve Robertello, director of compliance in the WSU Athletic Department, has accepted a senior associate athletic director position at Fresno State.

"He's a great Cougar," Moos said. "He's going to miss us, and we're going to miss him, but he'll do a great job for the Bulldogs."

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